Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J. D. Salinger
Publisher: Back Bay Books (Little, Brown; Hachette)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Goodreads synopsis: Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. […] His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.
Yes, I have an English degree, and I only just read this book for the first time. People were always baffled when I told them I hadn’t read this one, but now I have, so I guess I’m a normal person now. What pushed me to read it was my interview with Writers House. The director of the program told me it’s his favorite book, and I ended up being selected as an “alternate,” but that’s a different story. I wish I had read it in high school, because I would love to know how my teenage self would have responded to it. Unfortunately, all I can discuss is now.
I think I really liked the stream of consciousness style, and I liked that there wasn’t much of a plot. There was a problem, and there was a character solving the problem, but it wasn’t a plot in the usual sense. I say I think I liked it because I’m not totally sure, but the more I think about it, the more I feel sure that I liked it. I know that a lot of people think Holden is a whiny emo bitch, and I see that. Whenever he complained about people who like movies, I wanted to smack him. But the reason I can’t say I like this book overall is his attitude towards women and girls. I do not care what time period this was written in, let me make that clear. I do not care. I don’t care if it’s the year 2000 B.C., you cannot talk about girls the way Holden does. He constantly talks about how “most girls” are stupid and “phony” (as apparently everyone is in Holden’s world) and blah blah, and I won’t have it. And he even starts talking about how whenever he tries to have sex with girls, they want him to stop, and he does, but he talks about how he shouldn’t stop, and he wishes he wouldn’t, but he does anyway. He really makes it out to be a negative thing that he isn’t constantly sexually assaulting girls, and it’s horrific. Sure, it’s good that he’s not doing it, but everything about his mindset is wrong.
Another thing that’s rather infuriating is something I’ve found in some reviews on Goodreads. By the second half of the book, I had picked up on the fact that Holden clearly suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. I’ve talked about this illness a lot because I was given my diagnosis this March, although I’ve known I have it since I was eighteen. I’m not the only one who’s figured this out. It’s clear in the way that he professes his love for Sally and a paragraph later he hates her, and he does this with multiple characters. (It’s called “splitting”.) It’s clear in his impulsive behavior, like when he suddenly decides to leave Pencey, and later on when he suddenly decides to hitchhike out west and then suddenly decides to not do that, and he’s constantly having suicidal thoughts. A little thing I picked up on too is when he hangs out with this guy who he mentions says the word “certainly” a lot, and after that, Holden uses that word with increasing frequency. Because of a Borderline’s unstable sense of self, they tend to mirror the people that they’ve most recently spent time with. What infuriated me in the reviews is that people are swearing up and down that he can’t have BPD because he loves his sister, and Borderlines have no empathy. Excuse me?? Let me introduce you to someone. This is my baby sister:
Her name is Jane, and she’s turning eight years old next week. She is technically my half-sister, but she is basically my own child, and she has been the light of my life since the day she was born when I was fourteen. I do not know what kind of life I would be living if I didn’t have her. I don’t know if I would be living at all. Everything I do, I do for her, and it will always be that way. So I don’t want to hear for one second that Borderlines can’t love or can’t feel empathy. The whole thing about being a Borderline is that you feel EVERYTHING and you feel it hard, and while that can be mostly sadness and anger and guilt and fear, it is also love and happiness. I get to love Jane as fiercely as I do because I am a Borderline. I just really hate people who act like they know everything about mental illnesses when they actually know nothing.
Back to the actual book: I think I would be giving this a much higher rating if the whole girls/sex thing hadn’t really ruined it for me. You couldn’t have just cut that one paragraph, Salinger? Disappointing. But like I said, I liked the style, and I’m glad that I read it so at least now I can say that I have. Happy reading, friends! (Also, guess who liked my last review? Hint: it’s the author of the book!)